It's an old racing adage that they all look fast running past trees: Sprinter Sacre ran past a champion in Sizing Europe at Cheltenham yesterday and left him looking more than a little wooden.
That's no insult to Henry De Bromhead 's festival stalwart. Sprinter Sacre did after all start at 1/4, the shortest priced favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase since Flyingbolt 47 years ago. And in winning he treated the opposition with such swaggering disdain that Arkle's notoriously bad-tempered old next-door-neighbour might even have approved.
Nods to those two semi-mythical steeplechase names reflect the territory Sprinter Sacre is now starting to inhabit.
Flyingbolt was ridden to success in 1966 by Pat Taaffe and Barry Geraghty joined that legendary figure at the top of the Champion Chase tree yesterday with a fifth success in the two-mile crown.
Reaching for superlatives
Moscow Flyer provided Geraghty with two of those victories and like most of us, the Meath man reckoned he would never ride a better chaser over the minimum trip. But Sprinter Sacre has him reaching for superlatives so often he admitted yesterday to considering the purchase of a new dictionary.
The Sizing Europe team might be able to help him out.
Yesterday was Sizing Europe’s fifth festival start. The 2011 Champion Chase and the 2010 Arkle have been the highlights. Finishing an unlucky runner-up to Finian’s Rainbow last year was an exercise in severe frustration. Finishing hurt in the 2008 Champion Hurdle was even more stressful. But he has always been a serious player, until yesterday.
By the time he became the latest runner to trip on a wood-chip crossing before the turn in, Sizing Europe was already a busted flush. And that despite travelling and jumping with all the élan of old. Back then though he didn't have the "dark aeroplane" that is Sprinter Sacre stalking his every move. "We had a go but we were beaten by a phenomenal horse. Andrew (Lynch) said the horse tripped but it made no difference to the result. By then, the race was over," Henry De Bromhead admitted.
The decision to skip today's Ryanair in favour of another shot at two-mile glory didn't come off but De Bromhead was reluctant to travel down the speculative road of what challenge Sizing Europe might have presented to Sprinter Sacre a few years previously. "We are an 11-year-old but to be honest he has seemed as good as ever and he's put us in our place," he said. "Our fella did everything right but we were beaten by a very, very special horse."
Even Nicky Henderson, who's trained more festival winners than anyone else, admits to being under the spell of his latest superstar performer who could yet face his novice stable-companion Simonsig in a mouth-watering Queen Mother clash in 2014.
The bookmakers are in no doubt about who’s the superior though and Sprinter Sacre is already odds-on.
“Not only is he very good but he’s also the most stunning horse in the world, and that’s not always the case,” Henderson said, when asked about the growing swell of popular support for the new-boy on the two-mile block. “It’s all ‘look at me, look at me’.”
Henderson’s reference to last year’s winner, Finian’s Rainbow, a champion himself after all, but now reduced to a supporting role behind his stable companion, testifies to the strength Henderson has in this division.
“That’s the only sad bit. You’d like the reigning champ defending his crown but things haven’t gone Finian’s’ way,” he said. “Last year it was all about what might happen if Finian’s met Sprinter Sacre. Now it will be all about Simonsig but I do think they are both genuine two-milers. Barry might have the biggest problem.”
Even theoretically that choice represents an embarrassment of choice for any jockey. “He must be the closest thing to equine perfection around at the moment. I have ridden some brilliant horses over the years but the ease and grace this horse does it with sets him apart,” the jockey said.
The mouth-watering prospect from an Irish perspective is that Henderson is considering giving Sprinter Sacre a final start of this campaign at Punchestown next month.
“There is a nice Grade One at Punchestown,” grinned the trainer, maybe milking the moment a little bit, knowing the impact of an appearance by this superstar in horse-mad Co Kildare.